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Massacres of Albanians in the Balkan Wars

A series of massacres of Albanians in the Balkan Wars were committed by the Serbian and Montenegrin Army and paramilitaries, according to international reports.[1] During the First Balkan War of 1912-13, Serbia and Montenegro - after expelling the Ottoman forces in present-day Albania and Kosovo - committed numerous war crimes against the Albanian population, which were reported by the European, American and Serbian opposition press.[2] The goal of the forced expulsions and massacres of ethnic Albanians was a statistic manipulation before the London Ambassadors Conference which was to decide on the new Balkan borders.[2][3][4] According to contemporary accounts, between 20,000 and 25,000 Albanians were killed in the massacres.[2][4][5]

Massacres of Albanians in the Balkan Wars
LocationAlbania, Kosovo Vilayet
TargetAlbanian population in the territories occupied by Serbia, especially in the regions of today's Kosovo, Western Macedonia and Northern Albania
Attack type
Deportation, mass murder, death march, others
PerpetratorsKingdom of Serbia, Kingdom of Montenegro

The New York Times, 31.December 1912.



The modern Albanian-Serbian conflict has its roots in the expulsion of the Albanians in 1877-1878 from areas that became incorporated into the Principality of Serbia.[6][7] Prior to the outbreak of the First Balkan War, the Albanian nation was fighting for a national state. At the end of 1912, the Porte recognised the autonomy of Albanian vilayet. These events for Albanian autonomy and Ottoman weakness were viewed at the time as directly threatening the Christian population of the region with extermination.[8] The Balkan League (comprising Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria) jointly attacked the Ottoman Empire and during the next few months partitioned all Ottoman territory inhabited by Albanians.[1] The Kingdom of Serbia and the Kingdom of Greece occupied most of the land of what is today Albania and other lands inhabited by Albanians on the Adriatic coast. Montenegro occupied a part of today's northern Albania around Shkodër. The Serbian army in the region viewed its role as protecting local Orthodox Christian communities and avenging the medieval battle of Kosovo,[9] though it forced Catholic Albanians to convert to Orthodox Christianity.[10]



When villagers heard about the Serbian massacres of Albanians in the nearby villages, some houses took the desperate measure of raising white flag to protect themselves. In the cases the white flag was ignored during the attack of Serbian army on Prishtina in October 1912, the Albanians (led by Turkish officers) abused the white flag, and attacked Serbian soldiers.[5] The Serbian army subsequently used this as an excuse for the brutal retaliation of the civilians. Reports said that immediately upon entering the city, the Serbian army began hunting the Albanians and created a bloodshed by decimating the Albanian population of Prishtina.[2]

The number of Albanians of Prishtina killed in the early days of the Serbian government is estimated at 5,000.[5][11]


Ferizaj fell to Serbia, the local Albanian population gave a determined resistance. According to some reports, the fight for the city lasted three days.[2] After the fall of the city to the Serbian Army, the Serbian commander ordered the population to go back home and to surrender the weapons. When the survivors returned, between 300-400 people were massacred.[2] Then followed the destruction of Albanian-populated villages around Ferizaj.[12]


Gjakova was mentioned among the cities that suffered at the hands of the Serbian-Montenegrin army. The New York Times reported that people on the gallows hanged on both sides of the road, and that the way to Yakova became a "gallows alley."[11] In the region of Yakova, the Montenegrin police-military formation Kraljevski žandarmerijski kor, known as krilaši, committed many abuses and violence against the Albanian population.[13]

In Gjakova, Serbian priests carried out a violent conversion of Albanian Catholics to Serbian Orthodoxy.[10] Vienna Neue Freie Presse (20 March 1913) reported that Orthodox priests with the help of military force converted 300 Gjakova Catholics to the Orthodox faith, and that Franciscan Pater Angelus, who refused to renounce his faith, was tortured and then killed with bayonets. The History Institute in Pristina has claimed that Montenegro converted over 1,700 Albanian Catholics to the Serbian Orthodox faith in the area of Gjakova in March 1913.[14]


After the Serbian army achieved control over the city of Prizren, it imposed repressive measures against the Albanian civilian population. Serbian detachments broke into houses, plundered, committed acts of violence, and killed indiscriminately.[2] Around 400 people were "eradicated" in the first days of the Serbian military administration.[2] During those days bodies were lying everywhere on the streets. According to witnesses, during those days around Prizren lay about 1,500 corpses of Albanians.[5] Foreign reporters were not allowed to go to Prizren.[5] After the operations of the Serbian military and paramilitary units, Prizren became one of the most devastated cities of the Kosovo vilayet and people called it "the Kingdom of Death".[5] Eventually, General Božidar Janković forced surviving Albanian leaders of Prizren to sign a statement of gratitude to the Serbian king Peter I Karađorđević for their liberation.[5] It is estimated that 5,000 Albanians was massacred in the area of Prizren.[5] British traveller Edith Durham and a British military attaché were supposed to visit Prizren in October 1912, however the trip was prevented by the authorities. Durham stated " I asked wounded Montengrins [Soldiers] why I was not allowed to go and they laughed and said 'We have not left a nose on an Albanian up there!' Not a pretty sight for a British officer." Eventually Durham visited a northern Albanian outpost in Kosovo where she met captured Ottoman soldiers whose upper lips and noses had been cut off.[15]

The town of Prizren offered no resistance to Serb forces, but this did not avert a bloodbath there. After Prishtina, Prizren was the hardest hit of the Albanian towns. The local population called it the 'Kingdom of Death'. Serb forces forced their way into homes and beat up anyone and everyone in their way, irrespective of age or sex. Corpses lined the streets for days while the Serbian victors continued with brutality, and the native population which had survived did not dare to venture out of their homes. The attacks continued night after night throughout the town and region. Up to 400 people perished in the first few days of the Serbian occupation. When the Serbian troops were about to set off westwards, they could not find any horses to transport their equipment so they used 200 Albanians and forced them to carry the goods. Most of them collapsed during the journey and the Serbian commander expressed his satisfaction and approval of the action.[16][17]


When General Janković saw that the Albanians of Luma would not allow Serbian forces to continue the advance to the Adriatic Sea, he ordered the troops to continue their brutality.[2] The Serbian army massacred an entire population of men, women and children, not sparing anyone, and burned down 100-200houses and 27 villages in the area of Luma.[5] Reports spoke of the atrocities by the Serbian army, including the burning of women and children bound to stacks of hay, within the sight of their fathers.[2] Subsequently, about 400 men from Luma surrendered to Serbian authorities, but were taken to Prizren, where they were murdered.[2] The Daily Telegraph wrote that "all the horrors of history have been outdone by the atrocious conduct of the troops of General Jankovic".[2]

The second Luma massacre was committed the following year (1913). After the London Ambassador Conference decided that Luma should be within the Albanian state, the Serbian army initially refused to withdraw. Albanians raised a great rebellion in September 1913, after which Luma once again suffered harsh retaliation from the Serbian army. A report of the International Commission cited a letter of a Serbian soldier, who described the punitive expedition against the rebel Albanians:[1]

My dear Friend, I have no time to write to you at length, but I can tell you that appalling things are going on here. I am terrified by them, and constantly ask myself how men can be so barbarous as to commit such cruelties. It is horrible. I dare not tell you more, but I may say that Luma (an Albanian region along the river of the same name), no longer exists. There is nothing but corpses, dust and ashes. There are villages of 100, 150, 200 houses, where there is no longer a single man, literally not one. We collect them in bodies of forty to fifty, and then we pierce them with our bayonets to the last man. Pillage is going on everywhere. The officers told the soldiers to go to Prizren and sell the things they had stolen."

Italian daily newspaper Corriere delle Puglie wrote in December 1913 about official report that was sent to the Great Powers with details of the slaughter of Albanians in Luma and Debar, executed after the proclamation of the amnesty by Serbian authorities. The report listed the names of people killed by Serbian units in addition to the causes of death: by burning, slaughtering, bayonets, etc. The report also provided a detailed list of the burned and looted villages in the area of Luma and Has.[18]


On 20 September, the Serbian army carried off all the cattle of the Malësia of Dibra. The herdsmen were compelled to defend themselves, and to struggle, but they were all killed. The Serbians also killed two chieftains of the Luma clan, Mehmed Edem and Djafer Eleuz, and the began pillaging and burning all the villages on their way: Peshkopi, Blliçë, and Dohoshisht in lower Dibra; and another seven villages in upper Dibra. In all these villages the Serbians committed acts of horrible massacres and outrage on women, children and old people.[19]

Leon Trotsky's articleEdit

Leon Trotsky, later one of the leading figures of the Russian revolution, was sent as a journalist to cover Balkan Wars in Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. In his report sent to Kiev newspaper Kievskaya Misl he writes about many "atrocities committed against the Albanians of Macedonia and Kosovo in the wake of the Serb invasion of October 1912".[20] Among other instances he tells a shocking case of drunken Serbian soldiers torturing two young Albanians.

Four soldiers held their bayonets in readiness and in their midst stood two young Albanians with their white felt caps on their heads. A drunken sergeant – a komitadji – was holding a kama (a Macedonian dagger) in one hand and a bottle of cognac in the other. The sergeant ordered: 'On your knees!' The petrified Albanians fell to their knees. 'To your feet!' They stood up. This was repeated several times. Then the sergeant, threatening and cursing, put the dagger to the necks and chests of his victims and forced them to drink some cognac, and then… he kissed them... Drunk with power, cognac and blood, he was having fun, playing with them as a cat would with mice. The same gestures and the same psychology behind them. The other three soldiers, who were not drunk, stood by and took care that the Albanians did not escape or try to resist, so that the sergeant could enjoy his moment of rapture. 'They're Albanians,' said one of the soldiers to me dispassionately. 'Hell soon put them out of their misery.',

shows an excerpt from the report.[20]

Reactions to the killingsEdit

In order to investigate the crimes, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace formed a special commission, which was sent to the Balkans in 1913. Summing the situation in Albanian areas, Commission concludes:

Houses and whole villages reduced to ashes, unarmed and innocent populations massacred en masse, incredible acts of violence, pillage and brutality of every kind — such were the means which were employed and are still being employed by the Serbo-Montenegrin soldiery, with a view to the entire transformation of the ethnic character of regions inhabited exclusively by Albanians.[1]

Even one Serb Social Democrat who had served in the army previously commented on the disgust he had for the crimes his own people had committed against the Albanians, describing in great detail heaps of dead, headless Albanians in the centers of a string of burnt towns near Kumanovo and Skopje:

...the horrors actually began as soon as we crossed the old frontier. By five p.m. we were approaching Kumanovo. The sun had set, it was starting to get dark. But the darker the sky became, the more brightly the fearful illumination of the fires stood out against it. Burning was going on all around us. Entire Albanian villages had been turned into pillars of fire... In all its fiery monotony this picture was repeated the whole way to Skopje... For two days before my arrival in Skopje the inhabitants had woken up in the morning to the sight, under the principal bridge over the Vardar- that is, in the very centre of the town- of heaps of Albanian corpses with severed heads. Some said that these were local Albanians, killed by the komitadjis [cjetniks], others that the corpses were brought down to the bridge by the waters of the Vardar. What was clear was that these headless men had not been killed in battle.[21]


Mark Mazower, who has written extensively on Balkan history, in his work The Balkans, From the End of Byzantium to the Present Day claims:

In the former Ottoman districts of Kosovo and Monastir, in particular, the conquering Serb army killed perhaps thousands of civilians. Despite some Serb officer's careless talk of "exterminating" the Albanian population, this was killing prompted more by revenge than genocide.

— Mark Mazower[22]

Henrik August Angel, a Norwegian military officer and writer who personally followed the trail of the Ottoman army and army of Kingdom of Serbia, in his work[23] described "demonization of Serbs" in texts published in English language newspapers, and especially in German language newspapers from Germany and Austria-Hungary, as "shameful injustice".[24]


We have carried out the attempted premeditated murder of an entire nation. We were caught in that criminal act and have been obstructed. Now we have to suffer the punishment.... In the Balkan Wars, Serbia not only doubled its territory, but also its external enemies.[25]

As a result of the Treaty of London in 1913 which designated the former Ottoman lands to Serbia, Montenegro and Greece (namely, the large part of the Vilayet of Kosovo being awarded to Serbia), an independent Albania was recognised. As such, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro agreed to withdraw from the territory of the new Principality of Albania. The principality however included only about half of the territory populated by ethnic Albanians and a large number of Albanians remained in neighboring countries.[26]

These events have greatly contributed to the growth of the Serbian-Albanian conflict.[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Division of Intercourse and Education (1 January 1914). "Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan War". Washington, D.C. : The Endowment. Retrieved 6 September 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Leo Freundlich: Albania's Golgotha Archived 31 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Otpor okupaciji i modernizaciji". 9 March 2007. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b Hudson, Kimberly A. (5 March 2009). Justice, Intervention, and Force in International Relations: Reassessing Just War Theory in the 21st Century. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9780203879351. Retrieved 6 September 2016 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Archbishop Lazër Mjeda: Report on the Serb Invasion of Kosova and Macedonia Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Frantz, Eva Anne (2009). "Violence and its Impact on Loyalty and Identity Formation in Late Ottoman Kosovo: Muslims and Christians in a Period of Reform and Transformation". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 29 (4): 460–461. doi:10.1080/13602000903411366.
  7. ^ Müller, Dietmar (2009). "Orientalism and Nation: Jews and Muslims as Alterity in Southeastern Europe in the Age of Nation-States, 1878–1941". East Central Europe. 36 (1): 70. doi:10.1163/187633009x411485.
  8. ^ Report of the International Commission on the Balkan Wars. p. 47.
  9. ^ "Serbia, the Serbo-Albanian Conflict and the First Balkan War" (PDF). pp. 338-340; 343.
  10. ^ a b, Danijela Nadj. "Medjunarodni znanstveni skup "Jugoistocna Europa 1918.-1995." Albanci u svjetlosti vanjske politike Srbije". Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  11. ^ a b "SERVIAN ARMY LEFT A TRAIL OF BLOOD; Thousands of Men, Women, and Children Massacred in March to Sea, Say Hungarian Reports" (PDF). Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  12. ^ Leo Trotsky: Behind the Curtains of the Balkan Wars Archived 12 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Krilaši, Istorijski leksikon Crne Gore, Daily Press, Podgorica, 2006.
  14. ^ Hajrullaaga, Edmond. "chapter 2". Archived from the original on 31 October 2006. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  15. ^ Noel Malcolm (1998). Kosovo: A Short History. London: papermac. p. 253. ISBN 9780330412247.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 31 May 2012. Retrieved 17 April 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ Freundlich, Leo (1 January 1998). "Albania's Golgotha: indictments of the exterminators of the Albanian people". Juka Pub. Co. Retrieved 6 September 2016 – via Google Books.
  18. ^ Dole in Dibra: Official Report Submitted to the Great Powers Archived 18 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ "Report of the International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan War". Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  20. ^ a b Robert Elsie, Leo Trotsky: Behind the Curtains of the Balkan Wars Archived 12 December 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Quoted in Trotsky, op, cit., pp 267. Cited in Glenny's Balkans, where quote here is copied from, page 234
  22. ^ Mazower, Mark (2001) [2000]. "Building the nation-state.". The Balkans, From the End of Byzantium to the Present Day. Great Britain: Phoenix Press. ISBN 978-1-84212-544-1.
  23. ^ Henrik August, Angel (1995), Kada se jedan mali narod bori za život: Srpske vojničke priče, Haka, ISBN 978-86-81635-01-8
  24. ^ Vlahović, Dragan (25 December 2010). "Istorija — mit i zablude" [History — myth and misconceptions]. Politika (in Serbian). Belgrade: Politika Newspapers and Magazines. Igrom slučaja.... prejahao poprište i sopstvenim nogama išao tragom turske i srpske vojske... Srbima naneta sramotna nepravda... sanjao dopisnik iz Budimpešte
  25. ^ T. Gallagher, The Balkans in the New Millennium: In the Shadow of War and Peace, Routledge, 2006. ISBN 0-415-34940-0
  26. ^ Robert Elsie, The Conference of London 1913 Archived 11 February 2011 at WebCite
  27. ^ Dimitrije Tucović: Serbien und Albanien: ein kritischer Beitrag zur Unterdrückungspolitik der serbischen Bourgeoisie Archived 17 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine

External linksEdit